Ways of examining and celebrating your congregation's past

Your church has a history that directly impacts its present and future. Transition times provide opportunities for looking back in ways that honor the good and acknowledge the difficult. This reflection space is necessary for living fully toward God’s vision for the congregation. Here are a few examples of ways to approach the church’s heritage.

Draw out information about the past from various sources such as:

  • Church members
  • Written history of the congregation (if available)
  • Photos
  • Archived documents (e.g., newsletters, sermons, newspaper clippings, stewardship/capital campaign reports, meeting notes, budgets)
  • Lay leaders or clergy in the judicatory and/or surrounding area
  • Mission partners

Look for and acknowledge past patterns around:

  • Budgeting (e.g., income/expenses, giving patterns, pay scale, distribution of funds to various ministries inside and outside the church)
  • Membership demographics
  • Demographics of surrounding community
  • Demographics of denomination
  • Changes to the physical plant (e.g., construction, renovations, accessibility)
  • Stated protocols vs. lived protocols
  • Clergy tenures and the circumstances around their endings
  • Mission and ministry partnerships
  • Lay leadership patterns (e.g., amount of leader turnover, leader demographics, influence of informal leaders)

Celebrate the past by: 

  • Creating and displaying a timeline, which could include personal and community milestones as well as congregational benchmarks
  • Asking members to create or bring items symbolizing their journey with the church to contribute to an altar arrangement
  • Crafting an Ebenezer (a “stone of help” that recognizes God’s constant presence with the congregation) that remains in a prominent place
  • Making a photo collage
  • Focusing a worship service around the theme of God’s unfailing help throughout the church’s history
  • Hosting a congregational storytelling event
  • Commissioning a hymn that locates the church’s history and hopes in the larger story of God

In all of these conversations and activities, be sure to involve a range of voices and have fun.